Be wary of someone that talks about gear a lot. – Danny Barnes
When I’m on tour this month, it is going to be the first time I’ve played my doubleneck baritone/six string outside of Austin. See that video above? Yeah, like that. What follows is the story about how this came to pass, how I finally made this (admittedly, totally stupid) dream a reality. I don’t really talk about gear very much. At all, really. Yet, here we are. If you aren’t a guitar nerd, or don’t have a well-cultivated sense of the absurd, you might wanna skip this one. Everyone else, enjoy.
One of the downsides of being a one man band is being stuck behind the drum kit. When I was in “real” bands I could confront the audience. As a one man band, I’m shackled behind the tools of ignorance. I needed to find something to add to the “stage show” a bit, but that was going to be tough, as all my appendages were occupied. I couldn’t add anymore arms, but I could add more necks– to my guitar! Nyuck nyuck nyuck. (Please forgive me.)
Not that I’m a novelty act, mind you. I like to think of what I do as pretty musical, as far as the whole one man band thing goes. But, I did like the absurdity of the idea. I figured a one man band playing a doubleneck guitar was going to look so over-the-top and ridiculous that nobody would be able to bitch about the relative lack of a stage show, even if I was stuck sitting down the whole time. Once I had the image in my mind, it made me laugh every time I thought about it. If I could pull this off, it was going to be hilarious.
Once I had this genius idea to play a doubleneck guitar, I unfortunately found that the most common version is the 6/12 string, the kind Jimmy Page would play on live versions of Stairway. I didn’t really see myself doing one man band versions of Zeppelin songs, and didn’t think the sweet, chiming chords of an electric twelve string would suit the aesthetic I had heretofore worked to cultivate. So, I kept my eyes peeled for some other kind of doubleneck that would suit my needs.
Unfortunately, the type of guitar players who would want to play a doubleneck tend to lean toward the wanky side of things. I didn’t want a B.C. Rich or a Charvel Jackson with a pointy headstock, or some kind of gawdawful fusion monstrosity for slap-and-pop bass solos. I wanted something that would be stoopid, yet still not embarrassing. It’s a fine line. I wanted a bass/six-string combination of some sort, but it turned out that those aren’t really that easy to find. Something like the Mosrite Joe Maphis would play with Larry Collins? One of those could work:
My fellow Missourian Deke Dickerson has been known to rock one of these monsters, as well:
(You might notice that a Maphis or a Deke operate on a different end of the scale from me, technique-wise.)
Unfortunately, those Mosrites are freaking expensive. I mean, damn, not like I can afford a guitar that costs more than my truck. I needed a doubleneck that a.) wasn’t the Jimmy Page 12-string kind, b.) wasn’t the metalhead Steve Vai wanker kind, and c.) wasn’t the Weather Report fusion nightmare kind, and d.) was also dirt cheap. You might be surprised to discover that this wasn’t easy.
I kept my eye on ebay and scoured the guitar stores and pawn shops, but wasn’t turning up diddley/squat. I soon discovered that the cheapest (relatively) doublenecks available that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen holding onstage were the reissued Danelectro baritone/six string models. These were produced between 1998 and 2001, and then sales slowed down and they stopped making them for awhile. They started again in 2006, but there was a gap for a few years when they were cleaning out the warehouse and, for some reason, nobody seemed to want them. The Dano doublenecks started to turn up for cheap, if you were looking. And I was looking. After watching the auctions come and go on Ebay for awhile, I finally scored one for, wait for it… $175! Yass!
The only wrinkle was, this didn’t include the case. A doubleneck guitar is huge, and needs a case just a shade smaller than those used to transport a harp, stand up bass, or concrete drainage culvert like you see on the highway on flatbed trucks with a yellow “WIDE LOAD” banner. For awhile, I tried carting it around with two gig bags, one over each neck, but this looked like I was traveling with a giant hobo bindle, and didn’t do much to protect my valuable $175 investment.
If you think finding a doubleneck guitar is difficult, finding a case for one without having to buy another guitar along with it was a nightmare. I was starting to think my “deal” on the guitar wasn’t such a deal after all, since the case was impossible to come by. Eventually (like, two years later eventually), I found a case, which cost me two hundred bucks – more than the actual guitar had cost! Of course, both the guitar and case would sell for more than that now. For once in my life, I bought something at exactly the right time, and got both the guitar and case for way less than I could if I was looking for one today.
I had my doubleneck guitar. It looked good, had a baritone neck and not a twelve string, I had a case for it, and it was dirt cheap. Was I happy? Of course not!
Danelectros have these lipstick tube pickups, which, while they have a distinctive sound that works well for some types of music, wasn’t going to work for me. The Dano lipstick tubes tend to sound like, say, if you had made a guitar out of a corn flakes box. Overdriving them didn’t really work, getting them to feed back was impossible. I needed something fatter.
I remembered reading an interview with Danny Gatton where he talked about how he liked to take out the bridge pickups in his teles and put in soapbars, and that they sounded HUGE. A pretty common modification. This guitar was physically huge, and I wanted it to sound huge, too. Now, if I had spent thousands on a Mosrite doubleneck, I would have been wary about modifying anything, but since I’d paid ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE BUCKS, I didn’t sweat it. Out with the lipstick tubes, in with some P-90s. I raised the action so I could play slide on both necks. I also didn’t want to worry about it slipping out of tune, and tuning two necks onstage, so I put Sperzel locking tuners on the six-string neck. Now, I had everything just like I wanted. The only problem was, I had to actually play the thing.
I wanted to play this monstrosity in an open tuning, so I could play slide, and let one neck ring out while I played the other one without having to worry about discordant notes. When I play slide, I usually play in either open G or open E tuning. “Spanish” and “vestapol,” as R.L. Burnside referred to them when we toured together.
Due to the longer scale length, a baritone guitar is tuned down a fourth from normal: B E A D F♯ B. If I tuned the regular neck to open E (E B E G# B E), then I had to turn the baritone down to match. When tuned to be in the key of E, the baritone neck ends up playing like it was tuned in open G. It is fingered like open G tuning (D G D G B D) but the pitch is E. Now, I have the two tunings I normally use on different songs in different keys on the same guitar in the same key. This might make my brain hurt if I tried to think about it, but luckily I am playing drums and harmonica and sometimes maracas at the same time, so I don’t tend to dwell on it.
By the time I found the guitar, the case, got it set up like I wanted, and then actually learned how to play the thing, it had taken a few years. I haven’t really played out with it that much. I was going to take it with me the last time I went to Europe, but when I got to the airport and tried to check it for the flight, they told me the case was too big. They were going to charge me an oversize baggage fee that was equal to the cost of another ticket to get it on the plane. I ended up leaving the guitar at home for that tour. Flying the doubleneck to Europe would have been like adding another band member. One who wouldn’t help carry anything or man the merch table.
When I was asked to play the anniversary of the Bayport BBQ, Chris Johnson kindly offered to buy me a plane ticket. But I wanted to drive up, solely so that I could drag this doubleneck with me. These shows are going to be the first time I’ve played this thing outside of Austin. Look out, Minneapolis!
The dates, one more time:
Wednesday, Oct. 10th – The Crack Fox, St. Louis (It is also “Stag Night” with $1 cans of Stag beer)
Thursday, Oct. 11th – Firehouse Pub, Normal, IL
Friday, Oct. 12th – Bayport BBQ, Minneapolis, MN, opening for Tav Falco
Saturday, Oct. 13th – Bayport BBQ for the second night, this time me headlining!
Prepare yourself for the spectacle. Think I’ll stop at two necks, though. Additional necks would just be too gauche, dontcha think? I mean, c’mon, I’m trying to keep this shit motherfuckin’ classy, here…